Liberation Day September 5, 1945

words and memories by Pete George



In April of ‘44, we got orders that we were going to be shipped to Japan. The Americans were starting to get a little bit close to the Philippines, so they started getting all of the able-bodied people out, putting them on prison ships and shipping them to Japan. We bundled everything up that we had which wasn't a lot. But we boarded the train. They had the old box cars; not like our box cars that we have here.They're about a little less than half the size of our box cars, but they would put 200 to 300 in a box car and all you could do is sit there and fold your knees up and put your chin on your knee and that's the way you had to ride the whole trip. You couldn't -- of course, you couldn't go. There's no going to the bathroom or nothing like that. It was all done right there. So we went from there which was a short trip from Cabanatuan to Manila. Of course it was an all day trip. So when you got to Manila you were feeling pretty rough.

Then we went into Bilibid, which is where they -- all of the guys that were seriously wounded, they couldn't do anything, that's where they were. And we stayed there until the 27th, three days later. Then from there we left, went aboard a cargo vessel prison ship and they had a hole down there that we had 300 in our group and they put all 300 of us in that one hole and we rode that way all the way to Taiwan. It was like the box car, really. There was just no space and if you were the last one to go down, you had no place to sit. They all had to stand up and everybody was just so cramped up you couldn't move. You couldn't go to the bathroom. There was nothing, no way to do it so they'd lower buckets down with water and if you got lucky enough to get some water where you could. So you had the same problem. Your knees drawn under your chin and that's where you sat and that's where you stayed. They kept us down below and they let us come up on topside just once in the morning and once in the afternoon because we didn't know where we were going. We just thought maybe we were just going direct to Japan. I was in kind of like the back corner. Because I got in there maybe about halfway through, I did find a little space and I just sat there. Just draw your knees up and put your head on your knees and put your arms around your legs and that's how you sat. And, of course, you sat there for so long you couldn't hardly -- when you did have a chance to stand up, you'd stand up and then fall over again because of the cramps that you'd have.

But the ships were not marked and, of course, the Americans didn't know what type of cargo they were taking or handling or what, see. They had troops along in that ship right along with us, the regular troops. From Taiwan to Osaka we had an American submarine that fired two torpedoes at us and missed, of course. The ship we went over on was very fortunate because the prison ship before us and after were sunk by the American subs and with a great loss of life. I think one of them had 1500 on and I think maybe less than 500 survived. And we lost all of our officers on one, they bombed that ship and the submarine sunk it and we lost every one of them. We had a Navy fellow that said that we had two torpedoes fired at us after we left Manila harbor. We were on two ships, two prison ships and one of them was loaded with Japanese troops going back to Japan. There was a prison ship and two destroyers and one of the destroyers was sunk and torpedoed as we left the harbor.

So we went back into the harbor and then the next morning we started out again. Made it to Formosa and stayed there for a short -- about not quite a week, but the Americans had just bombed Formosa. The battle of Saipan and Guam was about to happen and when we got in there the harbor was pretty well cleared. So we stayed there too long as far as I'm concerned because all the Americans were doing was waiting for that harbor to fill up again and then they'd come back. So then we made it through and we had stormy weather from there all the way to Japan and which I was thankful for that because I said, no submarine can see us. And this navy guy said, they don't need to see. All they got is sonar. They can just use that and hit you with that.


Taikoku Maru

July 1944

We left March 24th, went aboard a Japanese prison ship and took us three days to go to Taiwan, which is Formosa. Then we stayed there until April the 2nd and then we sailed for Japan and went to Osaka. We landed in Osaka on April the 8th. We got off the ship in Osaka and it was snowing, great big old snow flakes. So we went on to Hitachi and they had snow under everything. It was cold. So that was in April of ‘44. So at that time the Japanese issued navy uniforms to everybody. What they did, they paraded us. We left Osaka and put us on a train and went to Tokyo. They put us on display, marched us through Tokyo, said, oh, we sunk another American ship. Here's the proof right here and we've been prisoners for over two years. Just like Lindbergh in New York. Everybody was on the sides, you know, hollering and all this and that. It was a big thing, you know. Then we had to take off our uniforms and go back into our prisoner of war clothes. Of course, shoes, we didn't have shoes. I had to wire the soles together to make them stay on. After a while they gave us their little, they call them aerial tennis shoe. There's no toes except for your big toe and the rest of your toes are just loose, like sandals. And we left Tokyo, went up north to Hitachi which was a copper mine. We got settled down there and went to work in a copper mine.

This particular camp, they had a whole bunch of the Chinese prisoners. They'd been there for years. We couldn't tell in other places where they had prisoners. But where we were, it was just the 300 of us that went into this particular area. The camp commander with the interpreter would always greet you, and say, you know, you're in camp and the Americans are losing the war. And then the interpreter would say that anyone that escaped from this camp would be shot with guns. That was a pet thing that they'd come up with. We got settled down and had like eight people in a little hut. Grass mats, they had those for a bed. And the darn mosquitoes, fleas, and everything, you could just see them hopping all over. In the wintertime there, when it got cold, they'd issue you like maybe 10 or 15 pieces of coke, which is like a coal, and you had a little fire. A little pit in the middle of this thing. You'd fire that up and for about an hour had a little heat. You froze for the rest of the time because Hitachi was real, real cold. That temperature was down below zero. Hitachi was way up north, so it was pretty cold pretty much of the year. Of course, we had no -- not anything heavy, not a heavy blanket of any kind. You had just a little old light blanket. But then you couldn't have the thing over you because the fleas in that mat would just eat you alive. You'd bundle those fleas up like that, you can't sleep at night. Everybody was sick too with diarrhea and you'd be going to the bathroom at least 20 times a night. It was just up and down and try to sleep and then you have to go again. You go to the latrines. They had the latrines set up. You just get by.

And then, one time, they brought in a bunch of bones. They gave them to us and what we do we just broke them and got the marrow out of them and we would eat that. They'd eat the meat off of the bones and give us the bones. That was nutritional in a way, you know.

Within three days, we were down in a copper mine. I worked 1200 and 1500 feet underground and each one had a different job to do. I worked a drill to start with. They give you a six-foot drill and then you'd keep it for a week and you'd go in there and find the vein. Then you drill and they come and blast. The Japanese would come on in and set the charge. Normally when you put the blasting cap on to blow it up, you'd have a little crimping machine. Crimper pliers that you'd crimp the edge so it would stay in the stick of dynamite. He would stick it in his mouth and crimp it with his teeth. So every time he did that, we all ran around the corner, you know, trying to see if his head was going to splatter all over everything.

You'd follow that vein until you ran out of it and then if there's no more behind that, you'd go and they'd find a new one. The Japanese civilians -- we were working with civilians in the copper mining and the soldiers, of course, they didn't come down there. The civilians were in charge over us down there and then they'd meet us as we came up and take us back to camp. You'd start digging and then you dig, dig, dig and first thing you know you've got a great big hole. They never shored anything up and that's one thing we all really feared, the cave-ins. The Chinese, a lot of them were killed by cave-ins and ours seemed to withstand all of it, even the blasting. But you could look up and see that stuff hanging and you just knew somebody else was setting off a charge.

For your noon meal they'd give you like a cigar box with rice in it. And by the time that you got ready to eat it at noon time, well, being down in that humidity down there, it would sour. You know, you tried to eat that stuff and it'd just make you sick. Really wouldn't even be worth eating.

If we could get by with sabotage we would do it. Any time we could sabotage anything we would. They never caught on. They would blast and then we'd have to shovel all that over in a cart and then the main chute would go down to the one that we'd dumped. Then it would go up topside and then they'd haul it off from there. And we'd start pushing that cart down there and really start running with it and it would hit the edge of that thing, tip over, and the cart and everything would fall down in the chute. Well, that would tear it up for the rest of the day because they had to clean it out and all they could say was domy da, domy da (phonetic), which is "no good, no good." You know. But we did that all the time and then we would, on the drilling there was all air compressor and you'd shoot too much pressure to it and break the drills. Just anything that you could do, but they never seemed to catch on. We were having fun as far as that goes because we didn't know if they'd take us topside and shoot all of us. But any time we could do it, we did that.

The civilians didn't bother you. We would do just enough work to get by and they could see that we were slowing down. So they'd give us what they call a camara which is a contract and say if you do so many carts per day, well, then you can quit and go back to camp and rest. Well, we would do it real quick because we could quit at one o'clock. We'd go down about 6 or 7 o'clock in the morning. So then the next day, he'd give you more work to do, see. So then we said, well, we'll slow it down. Working in a copper mine is like working in a coal mine. You get dust and it's getting in your system and I was getting you know, choked up. You just can't breathe hardly and we didn't stay there as long as some of them did. Some of them stayed there until the end of the war and they've got problems today with the copper dust. It's just like coal dust. We're working in the coal mines and a lot of them came up with TB and stuff like that.

We were just lucky. We had no cave-ins and, of course, a lot of guys would bang themselves up. Not getting out of the way of that cart or somebody swinging a pick, you know, not hitting with the pick to penetrate, but they'd knock them down or something. Just minor injuries. But you didn't want to do it too often, you know. They kept that thing going 24 hours a day and it was the old anaconda mines that was in World War I. They were active until 1927, well they reactivated those things and all the shoring that they had in there had all deteriorated and weakened. So it was really a scary thing to go down there and see that what they were doing.

Diet was the same. It never changed. You still got the rice and you never got any vegetables and stuff like that. You never got it. Every now and then you might get one little old piece of whale meat or something. Every night you went to bed hungry. Every morning you woke up hungry. There was nothing you could do about it. You were just hungry and you had stomach pains and everything else from not having enough food. You just survive, that's all. You just made yourself do it. You couldn't start to feel sorry for yourself or anything like that because it would kill you if you did that. You just act like you had a full 10 or 8 course meal and go on with it. But we had no bread, just the rice and every now and then they'd have a little greens. Now the ones that we got in Japan were a little bit different.


POW Camp: Tokyo #8B Hitachi (also known as Motoyama)

Primary Labor Use: Slave labor as miners for the Hitachi Copper Mine. [Nippon Mining Company]

Complete Camp Details : Learn More

Franz Lörzing's mining experience : Learn More


We left Hitachi right after first of January ‘45. The next camp I went to was Matsushima. You didn't know where you were going or what you're going to run into and, of course, what clothing you had was you could put in a thimble. You had the apprehension of where you're going, what are you going to do, and how you're going to end up. You would do that all through the whole thing because it was just like needles and pins all the time. When we went into the camp, there were a hundred of us and they had prisoners from Singapore and someplace else. They had a bunch of people from India that's, well, I called them Sikes. Johnny Sikes. Then a short time later they brought in a hundred of the ship's officers and crew of the Exeter, the British ship that was sunk in the Coral Sea. They brought all those into our camp so we had probably 500 or 600 in that camp total.

They were in a barracks all to themselves. We were in a barracks all to ourselves. Total number of Americans were about a hundred. We built an electric dynamo plant all by hand. We had a river and we dug out two big enormous holes through the mountain that diverts the water through and then we dug the hole for the dynamo to go in. And I had a nice job because of my leg. I couldn't quite stand up to the hard work all the time. So I got to be a wench operator and I'd go way up on top of a hill. A Jap guard was with me and I had this wench up there that had four handles: forward, reverse, up and down. All I could see was somebody down below, way down below on the ground giving me signals to raise up or to come this way. The wench was so weak that I had to wrap one leg around two of the handles and, of course, they would weaken, you know, and it would slip.

Well, my little pet thing at that time was when a pallet was full of all that construction stuff, they'd give me the signal to raise it up and put it across the river. Well, as soon as it would get in the middle it would slip and down it would go and then I would catch it before it hit the water. It jerked everything and everything would fall off on it, see. And again, that Jap said, 'domy domy da' meaning "no good, no good." And I did that as often as I could. So finally they got me off of that and put me down to where they were loading, putting dirt in a cart and then taking it to the edge of like a cliff and dumping all this stuff down there. And again we would push it so hard and fast that it would hit the edge and tilt over and over it would go. I don't know why they didn't execute all of us because you could just see what we were doing but they never even blinked an eye.

We had hope. Now that was the thing. If you gave up hope, then you'd die because there's nothing else to live for then. But every day was the end of the war, see, and you'd go day by day. At first you'd say, well, we surrendered in May and by Christmas the Americans are going to be here and get us out. Of course they never made it so then it would be the 4th of July and then it would be Christmas again. So it just kept you going all the time.


POW Camp: Tokyo 12-B Mitsushima (Hiraoka)

Primary Labor Use: Stevedores carrying cement for building of a dam.

Complete Camp Details : Learn More

John M. Gibbs Report, 31 July 1946 : Learn More


Mitsushima Camp Photo Dec 1944

Dec 1944
January 1945



One day we look up, we heard this roar and we saw 11 B-29s. They were way up there so they didn't drop any bombs or nothing so we figured they were taking pictures. And so about a week later about a hundred of them came over. Part of them hit us at where we were working and of course everything that we were working, just tore it all up. So it was just no way that you could repair it and this was an 8-hour bombing. That was the first time that I had been under a bombing of the B-29. I didn't think they could carry that many bombs, but they tore that place completely up. And really for the rest of the time, we just picked up a rock here and put it there. Just very small stuff to do. Oh, listen, we enjoyed that bombing because they had an oil storage site, I think Nagoya, Nagoya was not to far from where we were, they'd blast that thing day in and day out. And we could hear the explosions and the smoke rising. They didn't bother our area that much because there was nothing left. They just came over one time and just blew it up and that was all of it. And so the rest of it was menial work here and there, going out chopping wood for the camp.

Of course, the B-29s kept us pretty busy because we were out on a detail and we would go out and pick up chopped wood and bring wood into the camp. Then the air raid siren would go off and the Japanese would holler ' benedgey coo, benedgey coo', which is B-29!, B-29! and they'd take off. They'd leave us, our guards were gone. Well, there's nowhere we are going to go in Japan. Where are you going to go? So this was a little scary at that time because if we go back to camp, then they're going to say, well, you couldn't get off the island so you're trying to escape. So finally we said, we'll just go back to camp and take our chances on it. We marched in and, of course, the guards were at the gate. We march in you know, really doing your military walk, you know, and salute as you go by. We went right through and went back to the barracks and that was the end of it. It was a little bit scary at that, you know, because you didn't know what was going to happen if you go back.

The Japanese never said anything to us but we knew that with the amount of planes that were coming over, every day it was increasing more and more and you just knew that something was going to happen. What got us though was that before the Japanese surrendered, they changed some of the guards in our camp to what we called the Imperial Guards. They were the ones from Mongolia or Manchuria. And they're tall, they're much taller than the average Japanese so we thought they were there to more or less protect us from the others. We later found out that these were the ones that were going to execute all of us if the Americans landed on Japan. That's what they were there for. We thought they were kind of looking out for our welfare which they weren't, you know.

None of the camps were ever marked in Japan with a "PW" on top of the buildings. When the Americans hit Okinawa and took that over, then after the Japanese surrendered, they were going to come into Tokyo Bay. Everybody would fight. Everybody. Every man, woman and child would have a weapon of some kind and they would fight. The Americans, I understand, were going to invade, but the mass force of seven million troops, which, no telling what the casualties would be on the American side because that's a hard place. There's no roads except maybe just a few roads. But the main roads, like you'd have in any city, they don't have them. It's all done by rail. So it would really be a tough thing. It'd be a long, hard, drawn out affair.

Well, a typhoon hit at the time which delayed everything for two weeks and they never did even tell us then. Of course, we knew it was over with because this British fellow got a hold of a newspaper and found out that the Emperor surrendered. But they never came out and told us that the war was over with. But we never worked as much and we stayed at camp more than we went out.

So we were wondering what was going on and we had a British doctor who got a guy and says, well, make out like you're real sick. And he went down to Japanese headquarters and told them that he was real sick and he needed to get down to Tokyo or wherever the Americans were so that he could take care of him. And they said, no. They said we can't do that. Said he'll have to stay here. He said, well, if he dies, that's going to be your responsibility. That kind of shook them up a little bit. So they said, okay get him ready and put him on a stretcher. They took him down to the train station and put him on a train all by himself, no box car. This was a passenger train. It took him all the way down to Tokyo and when they got to where the Americans were, some of them had already come into Tokyo Bay. He jumped up out of that stretcher, you know. and he told them where our camp was located.

The USS Enterprise, they took six airplanes and loaded them up c-bags with food, clothing, cigarettes, candy, just everything they could put in there, and came over to our camp. And they'd peel off and drop these c-backs full of food and everything else ,and, of course, we all got sick as everything eating all that rich food. But one plane, this one really stands out, this one peeled off and came down and dropped his c-bag. We had a flag pole in the parade ground and just luck is all it was, the parachute floated down and hung right on that flag pole, see. And the Japanese, you could just see their eyes, oh, boy. No wonder we lost the war.

But see, even when this was going on, we were still under the Japanese. They were still in the camp. They still had the guards and everything else. But when they dropped that food, they didn't bother it. Then they came in and said, well, you're going to move to a new camp. And, of course, in a way we knew something was up then. But then again you didn't know for sure.

But we kind of had an idea because when we went down to the train station we got on a passenger train. We got on it about 10 o'clock and rode until about almost 6 o'clock to the coast and we went through this little town. And this guy was looking out and he said, I think I saw a navy guy down there. It looked like he had a bandoleer, two bandoleers across his chest and a sub Thompson machine gun, you know. I said, oh, that's probably one of those yay ho pole guys, you know, hauling something. And finally somebody stuck his head in the back of car there and yelled, he says, "Hey you guys, you want to go back to the States!"



B-29
Western Union News



Oh, gosh the feeling that you had, boy, was just like somebody had 10,000 pounds on your shoulder and all of a sudden it was lifted. You were just elated that you were free and people just don't understand that if you don't have your freedom, what it really feels like. It's just -- it's just bad. That's all it is. It just holds you down and everything else. And boy, from then lifting that weight and knew that the war was over with and that we were free and that we were going -- that we were going to go home and boy, you were just -- your smile was just moving your ears away. You know, in other words you're smiling so wide, you know, that it was really something though.

And boy, from then on, everybody just piled off the train. And then they had the correspondents there. They got everybody from each state and took our pictures and names and everything else. They put us on a hospital ship, took us out in a landing craft. And, of course, the waves -- you know, the tide was coming in and here we were just drenched and all because the waves would splash over the sides of the front of that thing. We got soaking wet. We got out to the hospital ship and they took us in and we took all of those old clothes that we had and threw them away. Took a shower, deloused us. Gave us a brand new pair of shoes, dungarees and the whole ball of wax and took us down to the galley and said, eat what you want. All they had then was like fried eggs and crackers. No butter or jelly. No coffee. But they had some cocoa. So we had that. So I just says, okay. Just pile on. You'd eat it, but it was so rich you'd go up topside and heave it over the side. Go back down. I think I had something like 15 eggs, you know, total. And then they said, we're crowded and all this but we have cots and everything set up on the deck. We went up there and they had the cot with a mattress on it. Big, thick mattress and a pillow and cover and everything else. Boy, we just sacked out and that was it.

And then the next morning they put us on a destroyer and they had pancakes for breakfast and they didn't give us any examination. They didn't check us. They didn't do nothing. We could eat anything we wanted, which was really bad because the prisoners from Germany, they put them on a strict diet and they were prisoners a lot less than we were. I don't know how many pancakes I ate, but I ate until I couldn't hold anymore. Then at noon time they had fried chicken and you just gorge yourself, you know. And gosh, we're just sick as a dog, you know.

Well, I think really what helped me out through prison camp was the way that I was raised with mother through the Greek religion and the food that we ate and everything else. I think that's what really carried me through prison camp, that my body was already acclimated for that and then it would take that punishment. Now, it wouldn't take it forever. Maybe five years it wouldn't do it. Even in the three and a half years that I doubt if I could have lasted another six months because my ankles were giving away. I couldn't hardly walk. And the malnutrition was really taking effect on you because you could feel that your body just really wasn't -- wasn't the same, you know. That you were just getting weaker and weaker by the day. So I think that that's what really pulled me through was just the way I was raised and the food that we had. You know, a lot of olive oil and all that and they say that's one of the best things in the world. That everything was fried in olive oil. Mother would make confetties and of course her meatloaf and confetties were, she'd take good round steak and she'd get two knives and chop it up. You wouldn't buy hamburger. She wouldn't have hamburger for nothing.

We made it down to Yokosuka and they put us on a ship, the Ozark, they had us on a list to fly us back to the states. And the day that our names came up to fly back, a bunch of Marines from the new 4th division, came over and said, we want all of the old 4th mariners out of Shanghai. They rounded up 125 of us, took us over to Yokosuka, and they had the Marine Corp band there. They had steaks. They had chicken. They had every kind of food you could think of. We could have anything we want and could request any music. Well, the music we knew was way back in the ‘40s. They didn't even know them. But the climax was that they threw a full battle dress parade for us. That's something that you don't get until you serve 30 years in the Marine Corp and we got a full battle dress parade. We had the commanding general there with us and Clement's, who was the one who organized the new 4th.

And the irony of that was that when they organized the new 4th division, they took the flag and the standard which is a Marine Corp flag and kept them covered and encased. They made a vow that they would not uncase those colors until they came to Japan and liberated all of the 4th mariners and throw a big parade for us, and that was what they did. They unfurled those colors and I think that you could hear the uproar back in the States, you know. And they went through that parade for us and everything. Well, you cried really. Just no way that you could hold it back, you know.


Newspaper

Newspaper

New 4th Color Guard



Then after that was over with, we went back to the ship and they said, well, we're going to put you on the list again but we're going to leave in the morning for the States if y'all want to go back with us on the ship. Well, I think I weighed a little less than a hundred pounds at the time. I dropped from about around 155, 158 down to under a hundred pounds. So I said, well, it will give me a chance to kind of gain a little bit of weight. Well, we left Tokyo on the Ozark on September the 8th and arrived in San Francisco in October-- so about 15, 16 days or so. But I think I weighed, like I said, less than a hundred and as soon as we got off the ship, went over to the naval hospital in Oakland and jumped on a scale and I weighed almost -- I weighed a little over 170 pounds. They fed us anything that we wanted, I looked like a balloon. Nobody would believe that I came out of prison camp. I mean my cheeks were full, you know, and it was terrible. It's a wonder it didn't kill us all but they didn't give us any examination, no pills, no nothing. Just fed us. The whole time your elbow moved, your mouth opened up.

When we passed underneath the Golden Gate bridge, you know. We said, well, here it is, good old San Francisco. We always called it Frisco. They said, you don't call it Frisco, it's San Francisco. And they had the band, well, the band greets every ship that comes in, see. And nobody met us after we disembarked off the ship and all they had was the bus. We got on the bus to take us to the hospital and they had a lady driver.

Of course, they didn't have this before and we just teased that poor girl to death, got her so rattled it was terrible. We said oh, my gosh, we went through three and a half years of prison camp and we're all going to be killed by a woman driver.


USS Ozark

60 buses & ambulances await arrival of POWs aboard USS Ozark, Guam Sept 13, 1945


Home Again

Last Words - In His Writing

For the rest of their lives, EX-POWs had to justify their compensation claims with the Veterans Administration.


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